Jae Crowder and the Infinite Sadness

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Does Crowder's DNP-CD against Detroit...and four total seconds against the Knicks...mean anything? What does his future look like?

Jae Crowder has played significant minutes in every game this season. In fact, he was the only Maverick to play in all 56 games -- until two games ago. When he received a DNP-CD against the Pistons and a grand total of four seconds of playing time against the Knicks. Our own Andrew Tobolowsky and Josh Bowe wonder: why?

Andrew Tobolowsky (@andytobo):

Against the Pistons of Detroit, on Saturday, for the first time this season, Jae Crowder received a DNP-CD, and the little-used Wayne Ellington took the bulk of his minutes. It could have been a lot of things. It could have been simply Ellington's turn, against a team that isn't, on paper, all that threatening. It could have been the fact that the Pistons players are generally either pretty small or really big and there weren't a lot of good matchups for the fairly average-sized, somewhat slow Crowder. It probably was some of this. And yet...not only have the Mavs played the Pistons before, by this point in the season, they've played everybody. And Crowder, who is averaging over 17 minutes a game, has always played.

People know how I feel about Crowder. I know they know because even when I'm not watching the game my twitter mentions light up with things like.

Here's the thing: some of that is for fun. I'm a columnist, not a GM or coach, and I know that Carlisle is as good as they come. I love having a guy like Dirk to cheer for and defend no matter what he does, and I kind of enjoy having Crowder to raise my blood pressure a bit.

But the other aspects of my feeling towards Crowder that aren't frustration are actually a kind of childlike wonder and amazement. Because Jae Crowder -- Corey Jae Crowder -- is an absolute genius at not accumulating conventional stats. I'm serious. If not accumulating conventional stats were piano composition, Jae Crowder would be Mozart. When I watch him, however upset I may get, I know, too, that I'm watching a genius at work.

Seriously. Of all the players in the NBA who've registered 1,000 or more minutes this season, Jae Crowder is 2nd to dead last in points scored. (Somehow, at 281 points on the season, he's still about 100 ahead of Kendrick Perkins, which tells you all you need to know about Kendrick Perkins.)

In rebounds, his 142 on the season puts him in the bottom 40, tied with Jrue Holiday, who's only played about 100 more minutes. He is, as near as I can tell, 3rd or 4th to last among forwards, just ahead of Corey Brewer, Anthony Tolliver and Alan Anderson. He's grabbed just 40 more boards than JJ Barea in two fewer minutes. His 32% three point percentage is 20th worst in the league among guys shooting more than two a game.

And the worst thing about it all is that Jae Crowder is getting worse. While his gaudy stats -- that is, five points, 0.9 assists and 2.5 boards a game in 17 minutes -- are truly impressive, in fact is that he's gotten worse every single month of the season. In January, he had a delicious 4.5 points, 2.3 boards a game in 19.3 minutes per game. In February he's down to 3.5 and 2.3 in 15.1 minutes.

The question is whether it's even possible for a guy to be good enough at defense that he can overcome his own fatal brilliance in these respects.

Josh Bowe (@Boweman55):

The crazy thing is, other people think he's good! Our own Rebecca Lawson has mentioned in our email chains how some writers she talked to over All-Star weekend wish they could have Crowder. THEY WISH THEY COULD HAVE CROWDER.

It's entirely possible to pluck almost ANY wing from the D-League right now, put him in an NBA, give him Crowder's minutes and easily dwarf his production on a pure numbers basis.

So why Crowder? What sets him apart? I'm not sure. He's far and away the plus/minus leader on the Mavs. His on-court/off-court stats are astounding...they're even better than Dirk's! When on the court, the Mavs offense scores 109.4 points per 100 possessions and give up just 99.7. THAT'S AMAZING.

I'm not sure how it's possible, since, while a good defender, Crowder isn't at the Tony Allen-level of being all defense and no offense. He's not quick enough for speedier wings or big enough for the taller ones.

Here's my theory: look at one of the most used lineups Crowder has been in lately. It features Crowder with Vince, Dirk, Wright and Harris. That lineup is DESTROYING TEAMS. And it totally makes sense, because that's mainly a bench unit, save for Dirk. It features an awesome foursome of Dirk, Wright, Vince, Harris who all play off each other beautifully. It also allows Crowder to just sorta be there, which isn't a knock. That's the perfect role for him.

Think about it -- in that lineup, there is no burden for Crowder to be either a scorer or lock-down defender. He has to do literally nothing on offense while Harris runs pick and rolls with Wright/Dirk, Dirk posts up, Vince spots up and does stuff. Crowder just has to swing the ball, which he's pretty good at. He's not a ball stopper. Then on defense, he isn't even the main defender. Vince is big enough to take on some of the bigger wings, Harris is there to guard the quick guys. In that lineup, Crowder is asked to do nothing but not be a negative. And he's perfect at that.

It sounds crazy, but Crowder is at his best by not being noticeable on the court. That lineup allows him to just sink away and do the absolute littlest of things to help the Mavs win. Am I crazy?

Andrew:

That thing about Tony Allen -- that's the most interesting aspect of this problem. I believe that Crowder is in the right place a lot of the time. Not for a board or assist or anything, but generally. I believe he is a plus defender. But he's not a disruptive defender on the level of an Allen or even on the level of Marion, either a couple of years ago or possibly even right now. So it's like if you think of all the things a basketball player has to do to deserve a place on the hardwood as a collection of scores out of ten. Consider he's a 1/10 in scoring, maybe a 2 in rebounding --what number do you need out of his defense to keep him out there? Is a 7 enough? Is he a 7?

People who defend Crowder usually do so on one of two fronts. First, they point to the fact that he's a 2nd round pick and, for a 2nd round pick, he's doing great. This is just flat-out true. If you're a 2nd rounder and you're getting solid NBA minutes in your second year, you're a good 2nd round pick. Most end up like Sarge or worse.

But first of all, the Mavs HAD the 17th pick in that draft, so the fact that they ended up with one marginally effective 2nd rounder isn't good news. Second, it doesn't matter at all how he compares to other guys in his situation. If there were some league rule which mandated that the Mavericks play their 2nd round picks, that would be one thing. Since the Mavs could choose, instead, literally anyone who's available from across the world, the question isn't "is he pretty good for a second round pick." It's "does he deserve to be a rotation player" and, since the answer to the former is COMPLETELY irrelevant to the latter, it's hard to know.

It's the problem again of just how good is he at the little things, and how good does he have to be to justify minutes. I don't have an answer. Last night, Wayne Ellington, who hasn't actually had a career any better than Crowder's so far other than the fact that teams can use a 3-point shooter who doesn't screw it up on the defensive end, took Crowder's 16 minutes and scored seven points, with two boards, two assists and a steal. Nobody's nominating him for the Hall of Fame for that, but his seven points were more than Crowder has scored in all but one game since Jan. 22. His two boards and two assists were more than Crowder has had in at least one of those categories in a game since 2-7 against Utah -- and before that, since January.

This is what we're talking about here. Which one of these guys with a below seven point per game career average is the guy for the Mavs? And it's really a question of whether it's more important that when the ball is swinging around the perimeter on offense it goes to a guy who might possibly put it in, or whether it's better to have a guy who may possibly be better at whatever the little things are.

Josh:

And that's almost an impossible question to answer. But, regardless, the fact that it seems Crowder can only be successful when he's in a lineup that has a pretty good point guard, one of the top 20 players of all time, a great scorer and one of the best finishers in the NBA is also a pretty big indictment of Crowder as well. I'm sure you or I could be good in that lineup with Harris, Vince, Dirk, Wright.

Let's shift gears to Crowder's future, since I think we've about beat a dead horse on his present. Can he be better? I know you have some HOT SPORTS TAKES on young, bad shooting guys improving their shot as their career goes on. Does the sudden transformation of Kendall Marshall, who could only hit college threes at an acceptable level even left wide open, into a 45-percent NBA 3-point shooter, give Crowder any hope? The thing that's so frustrating is all it takes is for Crowder to be just an average three point shooter (around 35 percent) and it changes his production VASTLY. If Crowder is who he was right now, but hit 35 percent of his threes, he'd be almost an entirely different player that we would pretty much never rag on.

Andrew:

This is a fun one, because it's an opportunity for you and I to publicly eat crow. I was panning Kendall Marshall for months because every mock draft had the Mavs picking him, you were with me, it looked like we were right and then it didn't. Look, guys can learn shooting. The problem is that people say a guy can ALWAYS learn shooting the way they say a team can ALWAYS find a competent PG or C in the offseason. After last year's Mike James experience and years and years of Shawn Bradley types, I'd say that's pretty clearly not true.

So he may. But the thing that amazes me about Crowder is how little it seems he improves at anything. I mean, I went to Summer League this year, and Summer League is fundamentally not useful from a predictive standpoint. The best guys there were Jonas Valanciunas, Cody Zeller and Kent Bazemore. So, sure, it showed that Jonas V was ready for primetime, but as of right now the Bazed God is averaging 2.5-0.5 and Cody is at 5.2-4.  So, summer league doesn't seem to be good enough competition to show who is and isn't nba ready.

The thing is, though, Jae couldn't score against those guys, either. I kept thinking, here's a guy who has guarded Kobe Bryant. How come he can't stand out in these games? Nearing the end of his second season, his stats are going in the wrong direction. His numbers have gotten worse every month. Like Kendall, a D-League stint might turn him around. But isn't it hard to see right now?

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